How to spot and prevent dehydration in horses

How to spot and prevent dehydration in horses

Even when the weather drops dramatically, horses still need an abundance of water to keep them hydrated. We try our best to comfort our horses during the cold with rugs, tweaking their diets, and winterise all our equipment. However, we often forget that horses need ample water, no matter the weather.

When the weather drops, so does the temperature of the drinking water which can lead to horses not wanting to drink as much. Research has proven that horses are more likely to drink water when it is warmer rather than colder, and that the average thoroughbred drinks between 20 and 30 litres a day. British Pet Insurance Services will take you through everything you need to know about equine dehydration and its dangers…


When it comes to dehydration in horses, it is important that you notice the warning signs early in order to get on top of the situation. Below are some key indications that your horse is dehydrated:

  • Decreased appetite
  • Decreased manure production
  • Lethargic
  • Check for dry gums/teeth. Their moisture content will decrease with the onset of dehydration.
  • Dull or sunken looking eyes


Dehydration can cause serious long term effects on horses, and if not treated immediately, possibly death. One of these major health issues brought on my dehydration is Colic. The horse’s body will end up drying out the intestinal contents which can lead to clogging and blockages. This will be extremely painful and can require many visits to the vet along with pain relieving drugs, daily stomach tubing, and water treatments.

Horses require water to produce mucus in their lungs which protects the delicate cells of the respiratory tract. As they become dehydrated and produce less mucus, their protective layer on the lungs slowly goes away making them more susceptible to lung problems, allergies, and even infections.

One of the most common symptoms of dehydration is loss of appetite, which in itself can have a number of effects on the horse’s body. This has a dramatic effect on the kidney and in some cases, can reduce saliva leading to choking hazards when they do feel like eating.


During the winter months, there are a number of things that you can do in order to make sure your horse drinks enough water. There are a variety of tank heaters that allow your tanks or trough to be free of ice and can even set the water temperature to a desired level so that your horse isn’t put off by the cold water.

If you can’t afford a tank heater, manually taking warmer water to your horses is another option. This not only means that your horse is getting non-frozen water; it also allows you to closely monitor their water intake for the day. You can also add salt to the water to make sure that it doesn’t freeze over, as well as allowing a boost in their sodium intake.

Whatever way you choose, it is important to always be vigilant around your horse and their drinking habits. Dehydration can happen all year round and without timely treatment, can be fatal for your horse.

British Pet Insurance Services offers a range of horse and pony cover levels, with up to £5,000 vet fees and a range of optional extras. Select the level of cover to suit your needs.

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